Watson gets the win, but watch out for those clingy relationships
Australia's batsman Shane Watson plays a shot. AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena
Call me pessimistic, but something leaves me a little concerned after Australia’s first match of this World Twenty20.
Sure, Australia despatched Ireland without trouble, reaching the Irish target of 123 with almost a quarter of an innings to spare. Sure, they did it with seven wickets in hand and never looked like faltering. Sure, Shane Watson played a dominant game.
But if you’ll forgive me for being circuitous, therein lies my dilemma.
See, the word ‘dominant’ is scarcely adequate to describe Watson’s match. The Australian all-rounder opened the bowling. He closed the bowling. He opened the batting. He was vice-captain, led in the field, and was named man of the match.
Watson’s first delivery of the match was a bouncer and a wicket. He came back in the middle of the innings, after Ireland’s O’Brien brothers had just notched a 50 partnership, and dismissed them both in the one over. He returned at the end to bowl the death over, conceding a six but otherwise keeping it tidy.
In between times, he took a fine running catch to get rid of Ireland’s second opener. Then he padded up, strode to the crease, and struck 51 from 30 balls, taking Australia to 1/91 in the 11th over before he was dismissed.
Frankly, no-one else need have bothered to turn up. Watson could have handed a few yellow jerseys round the sparse crowd and had them play-act as teammates.
So while it’s impressive for him, it does lead to wondering whether Australia’s limited-overs setup is too dependent on Watson firing.
The past couple of years have seen Watson flower into the all-rounder that so many had wished he would become. Especially in limited-overs matches, Watson’s bowling became increasingly important and incisive, and his innings have grown in confidence and brute strength.
But his form has accompanied a weaker period for the Australian teams in general, with an indecisiveness about their play and a tendency to record middling results. Wins have relied heavily on Watson, while his failures have often presaged team ones.
In a way, Watson reminds me of Geelong full forward Tom Hawkins. The similarities are apparent: both burly and fair-haired with Captain America looks, both freakishly talented sportsmen who were anointed young.
Both took some time to grow into that potential, and in recent times both have broken through and delivered on that early promise.
But there’s something in the Hawkins case that’s worth considering. Throughout Geelong’s recent years of dominance, they have never really had a dominant forward. In fact, they haven’t had one since Gary Ablett senior retired.
Instead they played with a genuine team effort, with modest forward contributors like Cameron Mooney, James Podsiadly, Nathan Ablett and Brad Ottens. Around that core swarmed Geelong’s many talented small forwards, and a hard-working midfield.
Through five dominant years and three premierships, there was no star goal-kicker – no Wayne Carey, no Jonathan Brown, no Lance Franklin, no Matthew Lloyd. But then this year, as Hawkins began to become a star, his team started to become one-dimensional.
Suddenly there were fewer routes to goal, with Hawkins kicking a bag and a few contributors chipping in. This was fine when he was dobbing six goals straight, but when he was blocked out of the match against Fremantle, his team fell straight out of the finals.
Options and alternatives are crucial. That’s why Australia’s omission of David Hussey looks like such a bad move – Australia’s most versatile player can bat the range between Michael Bevan and David Warner, while also being a bizarrely effective bowler and one of the best fieldsmen the limited-overs game has seen.
Neither Cameron White nor George Bailey has much in the way of international form before them, Warner is a lottery ticket, and Mike Hussey these days jangles as many nerves as he soothes. Dan Christian and Glenn Maxwell might be one pinch-hitter too many.
Watson should want to avoid becoming Australia’s talisman. But as the only truly secure option in Australia’s top order at present, he might not be able to help being made one.
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